I wasn’t going to write about it. I was going to let the end of my twenties pass peacefully in the night… screw that. Being low-key isn’t exactly my thing, so why start now? And while I could never tell all the stories or sum up everything that happened in a wee blog post, this sometimes-chaotic decade deserves more than a swift Irish exit. A decade?! Jesus.
That’s what’s been the most shocking. It’s not my age or my terrible eyesight that I’m concerned about — it’s how fast a fricken decade went, how fast this next one will go. So I want to take this time to reflect on some things I did, some things I didn’t do and maybe some things I learned. Maybe.
I spent most of my twenties single, something I wasn’t always thrilled about. There were many moments when I wanted to either be with someone or become someone that whomever I liked at the time thought was super cool, would fall madly in love with and walk to the ends of the earth for. Ahem, you can guess how well that worked out.
I never understood nor believed the cliché, “it will happen when you least expect it,” because I was mostly expecting “it” — at the gym, on the bus, while doing my 17th lap around some sticky bar. He was there. I knew it. (He wasn’t.)
Wanting something you don’t currently have is fine, okay? But at what cost? I’ll never get that time back, and honestly, this makes me a little sad, then again, I do respect the effort even when I got it wrong, which was often.
At 27, the “it” did happen, and I’m hesitant to write about the how or why because I don’t want to entertain the illusion that I know what the heck is going on. I don’t have a clue. But I can tell you how it felt.
Good. It felt good. When we met after matching on a dating app (shout out to Hinge), there were no fire hoops to jump through, twisted games to play, or different identity to try on.
Being with him meant I could be me. He texted me back. He made me dinners and a custom holiday card on Photoshop. And he still wanted to go on another date after I drank too much mulled wine while taking a new medication and nearly S’d my P’s at the Christmas market.
I was the first one to say, “I love you,” something I never thought I would have the courage to do. I was so nervous I barely got the words out. “You know when you’re on the phone with your mom, and right before you hang up, you’re like, ‘I love you,’ yeah, umm, that’s how I feel,” I stammered into the darkness of his room, couldn’t even look at him. His voice was steady when he replied, “I feel like I love you, too.”
OR WAS I RUNNING?
After I finished my post-graduate program, I wanted nothing more than to get the heck out of town. I was 22 and couldn’t have cared less about starting a career, moving out of my parents’ house, or becoming the kind of person who wakes up before 10 a.m. I wanted to see the world (get drunk on a beach in Europe). And I did. From 22 to 26, I visited 14 countries and a boatload of places in Canada. I even went on a few of those trips alone, which was surprising to everyone, considering I get lost in most parking lots.
*I should note that I was able to travel so much because my grandparents gave me money as a university graduation gift. My parents paid for nearly all of my education and didn’t charge rent while I lived at their home. I had connections that led me to apartments with affordable rent. I lived paycheque to paycheque. I’ve had a lot of help.*
Travelling was and still is one of my greatest loves. It has taught me, challenged me, and given me the break I needed from my own head. For years, I believed that I was the best version of myself when travelling, and in many ways, I was. I felt more present while away, less desperate to know all the answers. Life unfolded in front of me each day instead of something I had to figure out. I went wherever Google Maps told me to go, and it was magic.
Travel became a sort of addiction, and my lifestyle fed it. I had jobs that were easy to take time off from and easier to forget when I was on airplane mode. I dated casually (scarcely) and lived freely… or was I running?
I wouldn’t trade this time in my life for anything. The experiences I had while drifting gave me so much; as a tradeoff, I felt behind at home. I wasn’t sure who I was or what I wanted to do, and travel provided the perfect escape hatch. But I don’t know what I was so afraid of finding when I stayed. The process of self-discovery is layered and takes time, and do we ever really know where we’re going?
I am someone who has to try, like really try. The thing is, I don’t always want to. I’m trying to write this right now, and there are a thousand other things I’d rather be doing. Sometimes, trying sucks.
Whenever I feel like my attempts are less than futile, or I’m taking up residence inside my heightened expectations, or I’m just being straight-up lazy, I need to remember that trying doesn’t have to look pretty or be perfect.
In his storytelling and humour MasterClass, one of the great essayists, David Sedaris, says, “Feeling the need to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you paralyzed.”
I felt it in my bones when I heard that. The twenties were all about trying and not trying. The thirties are for trying and trying again. Fuck perfect.
THE BEST THINGS
One thing is clear when I look back on this decade: I would evaporate without my friends. There would be nothing left. Hello, I am vapour.
Navigating these years didn’t require a village; it needed a battalion, a team of highly tactical individuals with unique skill sets. We go to the bathroom in groups, and no one gets left behind. WE RIDE AT DAWN.
The individuals in my combat support company are better than me in every way. And I chose them selfishly because being around them makes me a more tolerable human and increases my chances of survival when battling life’s garbage fires.
They are better listeners, more reliable, more thoughtful, funnier, smarter, kinder, and they still talk to me and invite me to things even though it takes me two business days to reply ‘lmfao.’ They are the best things I could have asked for, and if anyone reading this ever comes for them, I will look for you, I will find you, and we will talk shit about you in the group chat.
NOT, IN FACT, FINE
Ouff, this is a tough one. Okay, deep breath, here goes.
The summer after I turned 20, one of my best friends died. She died. And it fucked up the way I moved through the world for a long time.
Her death didn’t make me live more fully or want to start a charity in her name. It didn’t make me more grateful every day or a better person. It made me really fucking scared and sad. But you wouldn’t know by looking at me. Nope. Not a chance. I was fine.
*Narrator’s voice: She was not, in fact, fine.
It turns out that pretending to be fine and actually being fine is not the same thing. Shocking, I know.
I wasn’t able to process these huge emotions or take on the gravity of what happened. The permanence of her sudden, unfair absence was incomprehensible. I couldn’t deal, so I filled up on distractions and distanced myself further and further away from feeling my feelings. Of course, this didn’t stop them from showing up, usually when I was drunk.
And even then, I tried to keep them to myself out of fear that I would inconveniently burden someone else. I’d called friends and my parents before and felt bad that they had to listen to me wail on the other line. So instead, I’d wait until I got home from the bar and cry alone in my room.
One night, through blurry, soaked eyes, I dialled the number for Kids Help Phone (we had prank-called them as kids — this is my karma) and listened to a calm, sturdy voice on the other line steady my frantic sobs. She then told me, in the kindest way possible, that I was too old for Kids Help Phone. I was 21 and couldn’t even ask for help correctly.
But there is no correct way to ask for help. There’s no “handling this really well” medal. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all, expertly packaged way to grieve, to heal.
For me, it happened in many small ways, slowly. It didn’t happen in a vacuum or on a trip, and it certainly didn’t happen in the arms of guys I thought would like me more if they saw me as the sultry, damaged girl. Spoiler alert: They didn’t.
The healing part is still happening.
Red is the last Taylor Swift album we heard together, and this still hurts in a way that’s hard to explain. I found out that she died the night I got home from the concert, Taylor’s Red Tour. It took me nine years before I could listen to that album again (Taylor’s Version this time, duh). But I did, and I loved it. I sang every word and danced and cried and smiled to myself, truly unhinged. I didn’t care.
Listening to that album reminded me of her, of our friendship. It reminded me of myself and the person I had been when I last heard those lyrics. It felt good to go back in time, to remember, to touch the memories I had pushed away because they had become too painful. I’m strong enough now to hold them, or maybe they’ve gotten lighter as time has passed. Sometimes I wonder if I miss her less now, a thought I don’t let myself sit with for too long.
Losing someone you love is the absolute worst. And I was naive to think her death could somehow prepare me for future losses. Death isn’t something you get good at, no matter how many reps you do. Just when you think you’re tough, or you’re okay enough to exist in a world without this person, or the love from someone else has put you back together, a fricken song comes on that could bring you to your knees. And I say let it. Feel it fucking all.